How to travel more sustainably: A conversation with activist Sarain Fox

Travelling consciously and ethically is not really an option if you’re aware of what’s happening around the world; it’s a necessity. While ‘sustainable travel’ has been a word on the lips of everyone throughout the travel industry over the past two to three years, it would be a huge error to see such a notion as anything near a “trend”. It is, of course, best described as an evolution, and one that will go far in protecting travel destinations, environments, wildlife and cultures for decades to come.

And the first step to travel more consciously and ethically is awareness. It’s as simple as that. There’s no use scolding and lecturing people who are unaware of the consequences of unsustainable actions, but simply directing them to learn in their own way, because you never know what will inspire change in an individual person with individual values, thoughts, and feelings.

That’s why we can never have enough articles, TED talks, programs, artworks and other media highlighting and speaking on the importance of sustainable travel. So allow this to be our first contribution to this ongoing evolution: an interview with well-known indigenous Canadian activist Sarain Fox from the Anishinaabekwe nation.

An avid activist, Fox was recently in Australia as a partner for TreadRight partner x Contiki Cares, a program by The Travel Corporation which promotes sustainable travel and respect of cultures around the world, and is making enormous steps forward in encouraging awareness around how to travel sustainably.

Here’s what she had to say.

With sustainable travel taking more of a focus in recent years, especially the single-use plastic issue, what kind of discussions do you hope to continue or become more prominent in the next 12 months?

I hope that travellers continue to be inspired to travel consciously and ethnically. Ideally people will remember the experiences they go home with, but also consider the footprint they leave behind. I believe we need to continue to support community-led initiatives that allow locals to share who they are authentically with the world. I hope we will continue to find ways to uplift the work that is already be done on the ground and find new and innovative ways to continue to make travel matter.

Cultural sensitivity has also become a topic of discussion for millennial travellers in particular. Have you noticed any substantial evidence of this from Australian tourists coming to Canada?

This is a really tough question. In some ways we have come far in conversations around diversity, Indigenous recognition and culture. Australia has a very similar history to Canada in terms of its colonial history with Indigenous peoples. I often find Australian tourists in Canada have no problem learning about the Indigenous culture here in Canada and recognizing the violent history of colonization…and then are shocked to find out that what they are appalled by here, is also happening in their own backyards.

I believe we all have more work to do to see other cultures and accept our differences (in values and world views). We have been taught to melt our differences in favour of cultural unity. Unity is great, when we’re protecting each other and the planet. But I don’t want to be melted down into a cultural smorgasbord. I want to see vibrant, multi-faceted communities who thrive using their own unique gifts and stories. I’d like to see more cultural respect as we walk forward together.

“I want to see vibrant, multi-faceted communities who thrive using their own unique gifts and stories”.

What are some of your first talking points when confronted with someone who doesn’t understand the benefit of sustainable travel for themselves?

People generally assume that sustainable travel will dampen their travel experience, be difficult or make vacation-life more stressful. So for me it’s about inspiring people to come up with their own way to make an impact.

I like to think about the longevity of the communities of people I’m visiting. Indigenous people have survived places for millennia. If you visit a place knowing your hosts were there forever, it’s a lot harder to leave a bunch of garbage behind.

Being conscious that each plastic bottle and each disposable bag you take, could sit there until your great great great grandchildren visit, is a pretty devastating legacy. I don’t want to be remembered for my litter.

“I don’t want to be remembered for my litter”

I guess effort (and how easy it is to get involved) is one of the most common misconceptions about sustainable travel for people who haven’t put much thought into it. What are some of the more accessible ways in which people can start contributing more sustainably?

Research your choices. An easy way to start contributing is to book your travel with sustainably minded companies, like Contiki, who champion sustainable travel. I was recently in Australia to help the TreadRight Foundation along with Contiki Cares, launch its first artisan grant in Australia, partnering with KARI Foundation – one of Australia’s leading Aboriginal service providers.

Committed to encouraging the cultures and arts of the destinations where travellers visit, TreadRight enables communities to see the benefit from tourism through economic empowerment, and in this case encouraging local Aboriginal artists to engage with the tourism industry – providing travellers, immersive indigenous experiences to offer a better understanding and appreciation for the culture and community.

Learn to get really honest about the impact YOU can make and are making. Accountability matters.

“Learn to get really honest about the impact YOU can make and are making. Accountability matters”.

You can play a role in ‘reconciliACTION’ by simply honouring and acknowledging our truth. When you travel ask yourself: where am I going, who are the original caretakers of the land, how can I support them and see their homelands through their eyes. The best way to travel is with humility. You aren’t the expert on someone else’s homeland. If you approach each travel experience with a sense of respect, wonder and curiosity, you’ll receive so much.

“If you approach each travel experience with a sense of respect, wonder and curiosity, you’ll receive so much.”

How has social media helped amplify understanding and empathy with indigenous communities in Canada?

Social Media has allowed people to connect all over the world and to hear our stories – directly from us. That allows for a powerful narrative shift that allows us to represent ourselves ands our histories. Although not in Canada, a fantastic example is Standing Rock. Social Media allowed the message to be shared with people in literally ever corner of the earth. 10,000 people came together at Standing Rock in resistance, in unity – but they were backed by millions of people around the world on social media. That put pressure on government to take action. Not for one communities future, but for the collective future or our planet.

To learn more about Sarain Fox you can watch her brilliant TED Talk HERE and follow her on social media HERE.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is an Editor-At-Large at the AU review, loves writing about travel and hospitality, and is partial to a perfectly textured octopus. You can reach him on Instagram: @chrisdsingh.